I’m a sucker for bright colors. Seriously, I wanted to wear a hot pink wedding dress, but my husband objected. I would paint the sky purple if I could. And when I was searching through my old photos for this post, I came across these two (pre-Pinterest!) images I had saved for future photoshoot inspiration, because this inspires me:
Here are a few of the fiesta-inspired cakes we’ve done over the years.
This cake, from just last weekend, featured hand-cut papel picado, fondant peppers, and our interpretation of a cactus.
I made the cake below for my aunt’s 50th birthday during my edible bunting phase. The papel picado on top was hand cut out of fondant. I loved the hand-sculpted fondant chili peppers at the time, but I think Callan’s pepper interpretation (in the first cake above) is a much improved version.
Closeup of the papel.
I absolutely love this cake, despite its muted colors. I designed it for this photo shoot, a Cinco de Mayo wedding-theme that featured dusty pastels instead of the traditional bright colors. With hand-cut papel picado (this time in ivory) and fondant succulents, for me this cake is a beautiful marriage between traditional Mexican design and southern California design aesthetic. (Photos: This Modern Romance)
I hope these cakes are as much fun for you to look at as they were to make. ¡Fiesta!
I am a notoriously terrible judge of character. If I like someone right off the bat, they’re almost guaranteed to turn out to be some sort of sociopath. Every once in a while, however, I get lucky. And in the case of Callan, I got really lucky.
Over the years, I’ve been approached by countless culinary students looking to do their internships with me. Usually, their emails are very generic, and I always get the feeling they’ve just copy/pasted from one email inquiry to the next, replacing Insert Name of Bakery Owner Here with my name. But Callan’s email was different–sincere, heartfelt, flattering without being over the top. I liked her immediately.
Liking someone immediately is normally a red flag for me, a sure indicator that within a very short time she will turn out to be a freak, a serial killer, or both, but in this case it stuck. It quickly became obvious that Callan was not only talented, but also reliable, intelligent, resourceful, and an asset.
This is Callan.
Callan’s internship ended in May, 2012, and I hired her to be my assistant. Callan is everything I am not. Where I tend to eyeball things, Callan takes the time to measure. Where I want to jump headfirst into a project, Callan likes to plan it out. Where I like to rush things, Callan likes to take her time. Where I am inefficient, she is efficient. In short, she is a true gem, and a perfect balance for me.
I’ve always admired people who know from a young age what they want to be (read this post and you’ll know why), and Callan knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a cake designer. Here, a photo of young Callan doing something curiously cake-related.
Callan began entering cake competitions at age eight (eight!). Below, Callan’s first entry at the Durham Fair. (What? You’ve never heard of the Durham Fair is? Neither did I until I met Callan. The Durham Fair is to Durham, CT and all its residents what the Sundance Film Festival is to Park City, Utah, only without all the celebrities. And with a lot more livestock.) Although she didn’t win, she refused to give up, and entered a cake in the Durham Fair every year until her senior year of high school…when she didn’t win and then gave up, making that part of the story far less inspirational and happy ending-ish than I intended. Sorry.
I interviewed Callan for this post, and asked her a lot of the questions people frequently ask me.
Erica: What is your favorite cake you’ve ever done?
Callan: I did a Sweet 16 cake with butterflies and pink and black zebra.
Erica: Does it bother you when people eat the cakes you’ve put so much effort into?
[I should mention here that this interview took place a while back and Callan didn't really do much talking for the first year she worked with me.]
Erica: Are there any cake artists you admire?
[Really? Not one? Seriously? You can't think of any?]
Erica: So, do you watch the cake shows? [This is probably the question I'm most frequently asked.]
[Okay, so maybe this wasn't the most revealing, riveting interview. Journalism is, apparently, much trickier than it seems. Good thing I stuck to cake design.]
It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Callan. I have enjoyed watching her learn and grow as an artist, and have come to rely on her in so many ways. (Those youthful hands in the DIYs I do for Project Wedding? They’re Callan’s.) I look forward to working together for many cakes to come.
Here are a few recent cakes that Callan gets all the credit for.
I love the subtlety of the ruffle on this cake.
Callan really perfected her chevron technique last summer. This navy and gold cake was a snap for her.
I love the movement of the octopus’ legs, and there’s something I love about the sea turtle in this under-the-sea themed cake.
Callan: You know how sometimes you ask me what I’d do without you and I answer, “Find someone else.”? The truth is, I have no idea. Thank you, Callan, for everything.
My great-uncle George, my maternal grandfather’s brother, turned 100 on April 13th. The three cakes I made for his party were far from the prettiest or most technically challenging I’ve made, but they were very special because he is so very special. (He requested cheesecake and strawberry shortcake–his two favorites. I’ve never made a strawberry shortcake, but how could I say no? Luckily Callan had an old recipe. Cousin Steve requested a chocolate cake as well, so I made that too.)
In addition to having had an amazing life, Uncle George is the most spunky, energetic, full of life “fella” I’ll ever know. Nothing about him says “elderly”. He’s all wit and humor, speedy and quick, and still gets his drink on. (My grandfather, Milton, his brother, also lived until 100 and appreciated a good glass of gin on the rocks–daily–until he died last year.) As funny as George is, he is equally warm and loving and generous. He’s just one of those guys that everyone loves.
George has always been a great story teller (some of my favorite stories involve a neighborhood kid a few years older who bore no relation but was known affectionately as “Uncle Izzy”), but I was actually there for one of my most cherished George memories. It was about 10 years ago when George was 90 and I was teaching U.S. history at a high school in Queens. I asked Uncle George to come give a talk to my classes about his life. I hoped my students would enjoy it.
He started by telling them how he and his two brothers grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. With no indoor plumbing, they had to go to public bath houses to bathe. They lived above a storefront, and the shop got a telephone long before they did. Friends would call the store and ask for George, and the shop owner would walk outside and shout up to his apartment, “George! Phone call for you!” George would come down and take the call. When George was about ten, they moved to the Bronx. One day George and a few buddies ditched school to go to Yankee Stadium and see Babe Ruth play. In World War II, he was in the Army stationed in Italy. And during the cold war, he and his wife Nettie traveled to Soviet Russia to visit her family.
The students–my inner-city students with their hard-as-nails New York exteriors–were riveted. They listened intently the entire time. I was so proud. At the end of his talk, I asked if there were any questions, and all their hands went up. Now I was bursting with pride. I probably should have seen it coming, but every single question shared a common theme:
“Were you naked in the bath houses?”
“Were women allowed?”
“Did you all bathe together?”
I was horrified, but George didn’t miss a beat, patiently answering all their questions with a respectfully straight face. If you knew him, you would expect nothing less.
George’s 100th birthday party was wonderful. Family and friends flew in from as far as Los Angeles and Israel to be there. Over 50 people were there.
First, the invitation:
George and two of my second cousins. Yup. He’s 100. Note the cocktail in his hand.
George founded a spiral binding company many years ago. The strawberry shortcake below features an edible version of the Spiral Man logo (left) that George designed.
Yankees, of course.
The three cakes. Cheesecake in the middle.
George, you are more than an inspiration to everyone that has ever had the pleasure of knowing you. You are the patriarch of our family, someone we all respect, admire, and love. Happy 100th Birthday to you.